Some significant changes have taken place at our Valley's "official" community theaters -- the ones that tend to bear the name of the city or community they call home, have been around a couple of decades or more, that have some loyal subscribers and feel a duty to present relatively wholesome entertainments with a beginning, middle, and end. I think many of these developments are pluses for artists and audiences.
Desert Foothills Theater, which I've always perceived as being in Cave Creek/Carefree because its venue is just around the corner from the Boulders, is one of the institutions that's rolled with the punches to its own benefit, especially if the packed and hysterically responsive house that came out in Friday's chilly downpour is any indication of the usual level of enthusiasm.
Many venues now feature multiple stages, including a "black box" or other secondary production space that is just right for companies whose shows can sell a couple of hundred tickets per night but seem sad and wasteful in a bigger house. There are a lot of smaller, funkier companies competing for younger audiences, but this raises the bar for script selection if one responds to it as a healthy challenge. DFT, for example, still presents crowd-pleasing musicals and comedies, but at least once or twice a season they pick something new to local audiences, sometimes even fostering brand-new local works.
More than ever before, students, graduates, and even faculty of our college arts programs are wisely turning to community theater to win new fans, punch up résumés, and sharpen skills between more lucrative gigs. Along with this ever-burgeoning talent pool, our Valley's development and transportation sprawl enables audiences to check out far-flung parts of town and still be assured of a show that can easily rival the quality of its downtown brethren, as well as someplace new and interesting to get a decent drink and meal. (At least most of the time.) And, finally, the cocooning and simplicity trends of the decade we've just experienced have re-introduced theater as an activity the whole family can enjoy participating in together (not just watching).
All this leads to the tipping point of Unnecessary Farce, which made its Arizona première last week at DFT and is sooooo crisp and sooooo funny. The script, written by Paul Slade Smith (a touring company utility player from such fine shows as Phantom and Wicked), takes place in the time-honored two adjoining hotel rooms (designed elegantly, but with appropriate blandness, here by Chuck Swartz) and involves cops, politicians, organized crime, and a brilliant yet snuggly accountant. This farce has been blazing a trail of delighted audiences through the big suburbs of North America for a few years now, starting in Lansing, Michigan, in 2006.
I was laughing so frequently and spontaneously that I was inhaling and laughing at the same time, producing a sound that has become embarrassingly familiar to several local actors. Petey Swartz's fine cast mixes impeccably timed physical humor with Smith's fresh jokes and surprises -- some of which we really ought to have seen coming, if there weren't so much going on. Nathalie Cadieux, a current ASU theater student, is an impressive standout, working her thespian buns off as Officer Billie Dwyer, an imperfect but enthusiastic rookie cop whose tireless engagement in her mission keeps the plot bulldozing through any chance of safety or sanity in the succession of bungled events.
Unnecessary Farce continues through Sunday, February 7, at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center at 33606 North 60th Street in Scottsdale. Order tickets, $12 to $20, here, or call 480-488-1981. Some reduced-price seats with slightly restricted visibility may be available, by telephone order only.